Health board cannot enforce shutoff of wells says Carnes

Kristen L. Mello

WESTFIELD- The Board of Health informed Kristen Mello during a board meeting last week that it would be unable to fulfill her request to have the city not run wells seven and eight. 

The wells were shut down due to contamination from firefighting foam and filtration systems have been installed.

Mello, who represents Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves (WRAFT) had requested to the board during the September Board of Health meeting that seven and eight not be activated. In an Aug. 14 letter, Mello cited Massachusetts General Law Part 1 Title 16 Section 122A: Regulation of domestic water supply: powers of board of health: penalties. 

In that section, it says that the Board of Health can issue a written warning for a business or homeowner who is found to be providing water to the public that is “unsafe or inadequate.” Those who receive a warning must seek an alternate water supply while service is discontinued. Failure to comply with the warning can result in a fine of $50 and the removal of the occupants of the place where the water is being used. 

Public Health Director Joseph Rouse and Board of Health Chairperson Juanita Carnes said that this law does not apply in the manner that Mello seems to hope it will. 

“Your demand of the health department to step in is not warranted. DPW, the water department and commission, the mayor, the law department and others have been consumed by this issue and are doing their jobs well,” said Carnes in a statement she read at Wednesday’s meeting. 

Joe Rouse, Westfield Director of Public Health

Mello responded by saying that she accepted the answer but that she only made the request to explore all possible avenues she could to keep the two wells from turning on. 

“The leg work for other actions has not been made. So we have officially made such a request, and you have officially given us such an answer, and that’s what we needed to do,” said Mello.

She then reiterated that she disagrees with the answer by the board and said that it is the responsibility of local health departments across the state to end problems like this. 

Mello then informed the board that professors from the University of Massachusetts would be coming to Westfield on Oct.16 to talk about what PFAS substances do to the human body.

“You’re only testing for 24 [chemicals]. Non-detect from 24 doesn’t mean jack when 300 went in the water,” said Mello, “So while I appreciate that we have limits, you’re telling me eight percent of what went in there isn’t there now, and I’m telling you that eight percent is not protective of public health.”

Board member Dr. Teresa Mitchell said work has been done on the situation, and that the Department of Public Health in the city has to follow the lead of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which the city Water Department is taking care of. 

“It is not up to us to overturn what their decisions are and tell them they have to do more,” said Mitchell. 

Mello then compared the problem to the vaping situation in the city and state. She said that the ability to step forward and place a ban on vaping is the kind of action she is looking to have applied to the PFAS situation. The vaping sales ban was imposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, but the Board of Health had been floating their own local restrictions before the state actions made that moot.

“I respect the position you’re in, I totally do, and I am not here to give you a hard time. But it is not protective of the public health, and this will come out sooner rather than later, and I am begging you to stop this. You have the chance,” said Mello.

Rouse suggested that Mello continue her search through other boards and commissions in the city, which Mello responded to by saying that the Board of Health is not the only one she has approached. 

“We are a reactive agency. We put out fires. If we found out that the Water Department was hiding something, that the DEP was ignoring their responsibility, and the product coming out of the tap was not acceptable or not legal, we would of course do something about that,” said Rouse, “Barring that, I don’t want to say our hands our tied, but there is not anything, legally, for us to circumvent that whole process.”

Mello is  a candidate for Westfield City Council at-large.

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